There are a lot of fishing opportunities out there that may seem exotic or hard to come by at first. Dig a little deeper, though, and you’ll find that they’re available to everyone, provided you’re willing to do some pre-trip research and you’re willing to source some local knowledge.
There is no one more qualified to advise a newcomer on the best locations, presentations and tackle choices than a knowledgeable resident. With their help, you should be able to find amazing fishing opportunities wherever you go, which is just what happened to me earlier this year when I traveled to Florida’s Space Coast with my family for vacation.
Here’s how I was able to tap into local residents and resources to turn what might have been a busted fishing day into an angling adventure my twin girls will remember forever.
I’d packed one travel rod, a spinning reel, and a small assortment of lures for our trip. The day before I wanted to take my girls to a local beach to fish I’d even stopped in at a local tackle shop to get some much-needed advice. The shop owner was helpful and I left with some 3-ounce sinkers, pompano rigs, and a package of frozen shrimp.
Quick tip: Quick Tip: Pay attention to how the locals fish, so that you can not only pick up tips, but also avoid breaking any unspoken rules of your potential new fishing community.
These worked great and I caught a few fish right away, but my enthusiasm drained away the first evening as I watched the waves grow from manageable two-footers to well over my head in a matter of a few hours. I knew the fish I’d found staging on a sandy shelf were going to be within reach, but impossible to work with my setup, which wouldn’t hold in the waves, or allow me to cast far enough into the surf to reach any of the productive water. My twin seven-year-old daughters were ready to catch their first saltwater fish, so I needed a new strategy.
The young man working in the tackle shop closest to our Cocoa Beach hotel told me about several spots that might be just out of the wind enough to fish with my setup. He then showed me the smallest jigheads, hooks and sinkers they sold. I left with the ocean equivalent of panfish tackle and drove north until I found a private beach with paid access. Using my phone to check some aerial photography, I could see a pier and a jetty, and it looked like the best fishing might be shielded from the big waves.
My first spot was a bust, but farther out on the pier I started to get bites. Pinfish were the first takers, but then I caught a blowfish that the girls would have found fascinating. A few small hairy blennies bit as well, so I drove back to the hotel to get the girls and their Uncle Dave, who didn’t want to miss a chance to see what the fishing was like.
We’d just started to pluck a few hairy blennies from the rocks when a bikini-clad local with a cast-net and a fishing rod walked up. She surveyed our setup and said, “Honey, you’re all wrong. Everything you have is wrong.” She didn’t even let me respond before she walked off.
A few minutes later we walked up the pier to see if we could find an open spot when another fishermen approached us and said, “Come on down. They’re biting at the end of the pier. All you need is a crappie jig.”
When I told him my crappie jigs were 1000 miles away, he opened his tackle box and pulled a white marabou jig out and then unspooled three feet of 40-pound fluorocarbon for a leader. I watched as he set us up and when he finished he said, “Tip the jig with a piece of shrimp, cast it straight out and let it hit the bottom. Then, pop it back in.”
Quick tip: Keep your fishing simple when you’re traveling with kids. The best spots are often those easy-to-access areas from shore that will provide enough action to keep you and the kids happy.
On the first cast I did just that and within a few cranks of the reel a whiting bit. I handed the rod to Lila, who landed it while fisherman down the entire length of the pier cheered. The next cast produced the exact same results for her twin sister and it was smiles all around. We fished under a double rainbow while birds of all varieties tried to snatch our bait. The local who had set us up told us stories about fishing and offered up tips.
It was one of those evenings when you pray to whoever might be listening to delay the sunset for a few more minutes just to wring the most out of the experience, but eventually we packed it in and thanked our new friend.
As we walked off the pier, the bikini-clad rod critic who’d stopped us earlier was leaning hard against a fish that had some weight to it. Her fishing partner clambered down on the rocks with a net and when he popped up, a three-foot shark bowed the bottom of the net.
The woman let fly with the mother of all swear words, which sent my daughters into a giggling fit. But that ended when she told the girls to walk on up and touch the fish. They were wide-eyed and surprised at the shark’s rough skin. It was a perfect ending to the most fun we had during eight days of theme-parks and beach fun in Florida.
The shore fishing opportunities we found on our latest trip were no accident, even though we leaned heavily on local help. Here are some of the ways we made the trip a success.
Carry A Pack Rod: I always travel with a collapsible rod and just enough tackle to hit the water wherever we end up. The rod is a $20, whippy six-footer that is better than nothing and has been good enough for a wide variety of saltwater fish over the years.
It’s too small for a lot of fish, but good enough for a seven-year old or an adult man with the fishing enthusiasm of a seven-year old. The idea is to be able to fish any time an opportunity comes up, and if you’re looking, it usually does.
Buy A Time-Specific License: Pretty much everywhere you go you’ll probably need a fishing license, but most states will sell you a time-specific license that is usually good for a few days and is often cheaper than the fee to check one bag at the airport.
Tap The Local Tackle Shop: Aside from that, you’ll probably need a little help. I always do some internet research on the fish that might be available and the public spots I can visit, but there’s nothing that replaces local knowledge. I can remember strolling into a tackle shop in Key West one time and asking the fellow behind the counter what to use and he simply asked me where I was staying. After telling him, he grabbed a few jigheads, some shrimp and said, “Throw it out and then let it sit on the bottom.”
Mangrove snapper and grunts bit nonstop along with a few bonus barracuda and before long, my wife and I had an entire group of people fishing with us. Several had young kids and while they hailed from all over the country, we all shared a similar love for fishing. It was an incredible vacation and the trip that solidified my resolve for always traveling with enough tackle to take advantage of new adventure.
Nowadays, that new adventure involves a pair of little girls who want to catch fish and see string rays and experience what the world of water has to offer. It’s a gift that so many destinations offer. If that sounds appealing, consider picking up an inexpensive travel rod and doing a little research before your next family outing. You just might find a local fishing community that will take you in as one of their own, which is what fishing is all about.
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